In other words

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Columnist appreciates euphemisms

By Robert Villanueva


By ROBERT VILLANUEVA   I once knew a guy who described someone by saying “he’s not fishing in the same pond with the rest of us.” That phrase said it all. It immediately called to mind other phrases: “one fry short of a Happy Meal,” “the light’s on but nobody’s home,” “one brick short of a load.” That’s the beauty of the euphemism: It says what it needs to say without coming right out and saying it. With a euphemism you can say that person is “not the brightest bulb in the pack,” “not the sharpest tool in the shed” or that they are “as sharp as a marble,” and the point is made. Personally, I like the euphemism. At least for some forms of writing. It adds a little creativity, character and color to language. As I wrote this column, I did a search for euphemisms online. Among the various interesting Web pages dedicated to specific euphemisms for specific things, I found one columnist who railed against the use of euphemisms because it used more words than necessary to express an idea rather than state it directly. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, depending on the circumstances. If you’re writing a term paper or formal piece of writing or if you’re giving a formal speech, I wouldn’t suggest the euphemism as a way to go. But for creative writing, such as essays, columns and fiction, the euphemism can be a great literary device. Consider a character who’s describing an incident. “She screamed some expletives and fell down the porch steps,” the character says. Not bad. “She swore like a sailor and took a nosedive from the porch steps.” That’s a stronger visual description for me. And it can reveal something about the character speaking. Sometimes the euphemism is ironically less delicate than the word or phrase it is supposedly softening. Consider the terms “pushing up daisies,” “stiff as a board,” “six feet under” “worm food” and “bit the dust.” Those are not the most pleasant visual images or sensitive terms. Then again, someone who “bought the farm” sounds more like they had a good day in real estate than … well, you know. One of the most visual phrases I’ve heard in recent years was in reply to my asking someone how they were doing. “Hangin’ in there like a hair in a biscuit,” the woman said. Mentally, I responded by nearly gagging. But I also had a clear image of what a hair hung in a biscuit was like, and the point was made. Of course, there’s a euphemism for just about everything and new ones crop up all the time. In the past decade or so you might have heard someone tell someone else to “talk to the hand.” As a writer, I enjoy hearing the creative alternatives to everyday activities. Anytime I can see different ways of saying things, I feel it expands my choices. And choice is good. So I guess I’ll “blow this popsicle stand” and “put on the feed bag,” or for those who don’t want the euphemistic version, leave and go eat. Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.